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Editorial Comment: Grassroots Victories

LT Editors
Date Published: 
August 01, 2005
    With so much attention being focused on the depressing state of organized labor in general and the schism between the top brass of the AFL-CIO in particular, it took most of the media a couple months to report in any meaningful way on the victory of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) over Taco Bell in March of this year.

While the struggle of these predominately poor, immigrant farm workers against one of the largest fast food corporations in the world is one of the most significant victories for workers in the US in some time, there have been other, smaller but important victories and struggles which have not gotten the attention they deserve. In this issue of Left Turn we not only report on and analyze a number of these struggles, both nationally and internationally, but also allow the workers, students, activists, organizers, and researchers involved in them to speak for themselves about the struggle.

In addition to David Solnit’s interview with some of the workers from the CIW, Rachel Murray of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee reports on their successful campaign to win a living wage for workers at Georgetown University. And in the Activist Forum, Ella Hereth, an organizer with SEIU describes a major contract campaign they just won in the nursing home industry.

Reading about these and other labor struggles in this issue you begin to see a common theme running through them. Most involve long-term campaigns that focus on building power and leadership at the base, among the workers themselves. They often make connections to globalization and neoliberalism and the global movement against them. They also usually rely on some form of direct and creative actions, the latter being anything from street theater to puppets, art, music and poetry or a combination of all to get away from the usual staid marches and rallies with numerous speakers. Finally, they explicitly address issues of oppression and, partly as a result, involve students, religious groups, activists, and academics in addition to organizers and the workers themselves. All of this adds up to, in cases like the CIW, a real live social movement.

Aasim Sajjad’s article on workers’ and peasants’ movements in Pakistan and James O’Nions’ interview with Hassan Juma’a Awad, President of the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE) in Iraq, show that despite a very reactionary, unstable, and generally difficult political climate, there have been some significant struggles and even victories by peasants and workers in these countries. The GUOE, for example, has been leading the struggle against privatization of the oil industry and was central to preventing Halliburton from taking over the oil industry. They recently organized an anti-privatization conference in Basra that attracted delegates and attendees from around the world. We've reprinted the final communique of the conference.

These recent victories at the grassroots have highlighted the long-term struggles of workers that make the achievement of economic and racial justice at home possible. The leadership of working class people of color has long been recognized in global justice movements abroad – from the anti-privatization fights in South Africa to the indigenous farmers resisting “free trade” in Bolivia. The fact that struggles led by groups like the CIW are becoming the new face of the global justice movement here in the US is a positive and welcome development. Our hope is that the victories of the farm workers in Immokalee and the oil workers in Basra can redefine both the labor and global justice movements in the US into an inspiring force for change in the lives of us all.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre